A few weeks ago, Books With Bite offered proof copies of Ariadnis, a new fantasy book by Josh Martin, to their Twitter followers, and I was delighted to snap one up. It arrived in a fabulous envelope, with gorgeous character cards and a promise to be something really fabulous, so I was delighted to start reading it very shortly after.
Back then I thought that if it weren’t for that cliff, our cities would be one and there would be no need for all this fierceness toward each other. But then I learned about pride and tradition and prophecy, and those things are harder than rock.
Joomia and Aula are Chosen. They will never be normal. They can never be free.
On the last island on Erthe, Chosen Ones are destined to enter Ariadnis on the day they turn eighteen. There, they must undertake a mysterious and deadly challenge. For Joomia and Aula, this means competing against each other, to end the war that has seethed between their cities for nine generations.
As the day draws nearer, all thoughts are on the trial ahead. There’s no space for friendship. No time for love. However much the girls might crave them.
But how you prepare for a task you know nothing certain about? Nothing, except that you must win, at whatever cost, or lose everything.
I went into this book with high hopes. A diverse case of characters, two Chosen ones who probably didn’t want to be Chosen, two warring cultures, and a task which may well be a fight to the death between two young women who never really wanted to be a part of this anyway.
There were lots of great things about this book. Like I said, the diversity was great, as were the two distinct cultures, and the two main characters, Joomia and Aula, had very clear voices, so even as the narrative switched between them, it was easy to keep them apart in my head. There was casual mention of periods, and gay relationships which weren’t framed as anything particularly noteworthy, sex positivity, one main character who was effectively mute (with a few exceptions) and some really beautiful writing.
The main problem I had with this book was, well, the story wasn’t all that great. I found myself putting this down and picking up other books instead because I wasn’t drawn in, and didn’t really care what happened next. The blurb of the proof that I got made a big deal of the fact that on the Chosen Ones’ birthday, they would have to enter Ariadnis, making it seem like what happened in Ariadnis would be the bulk of the book, but actually, it’s almost none of it. I did actually like that, because I thought the leadup was much more interesting, the pressures of being a Chosen One and having to prepare for something, even if you don’t know what, but it wasn’t the book I was expecting, without doubt.
Even though parts of Ariadnis felt like it was subverting tired old tropes, other parts seemed just as clichéd as ever, and there were no moments in the book where I went ‘wow’ or really felt anything at all.
One other thing I find infuriating is books which are set in a post-apocalyptic Earth (or Erthe, as it is in these books) that somehow have magic in them. The Queen of the Tearling is a prime example of this, and I find it infuriating. Similarly infuriating is the presence of magic here on Erthe.
The one thing I can say is that the ending was good. It wrapped everything up nicely as a self-contained story, but left room for development if wanted. There will be another Erthe book to follow – called Annassa – but I’m not all that sure I’ll be interested in reading it. I might have gone into this expecting too much – it was good, but not really great, I thought.